BROTHER BEEBE: – I received a letter a short time since, from Bro. P. Meredith, in which he requests me also to give my views of the text, Job 28:7,8, in reference to the enquiry whether there is not a path which passes between the sand bars of Arminianism and the granite rocks of Antinomianism.
Your answer to this enquiry as published under the editorial head in No.9 of present Vol., he says is very explicit in reference to Arminianism, but not so full in reference to Antinomianism as he wished. He gives as a further reason for requesting my views, that he has lately heard, “that to be a thorough going Old School Baptist, one must believe that it is not the duty of the unregenerate, to believe, repent, or pray.” I will therefore add my testimony to yours on this point. The one may strengthen the other.
I will first examine the subject of Antinomianism and see whether “the path which no fowl knoweth, and the vulture’s eye hath not seen” can be a middle track between that and Arminianism.
The signification of the term Antinomianism is, according to its etymology, against the law, as shown by Brother Beebe; and the charge evidently intended to be fixed upon those to whom this term is applied is that they are opposed to the law of God, or do it away by their doctrine. This charge, if the enemies of truth were admitted to be judges, would have been fixed upon the Master of the house, and upon those of His household in every age, from Paul down to Brother Meredith and myself, who preach a finished salvation in Christ. But I appeal from those would be judges to the scriptures of truth. I would stand at the judgment seat of Christ.
Those who anciently claimed to be disciples of Moses in distinction from Christ, evidently supposed that the letter of the Sinai laws, moral and ceremonial, together with the traditions of their fathers, constituted a code of law which supplanted the original law under which man was created; and that this was the standard by which man’s acceptance with God, or rejection, was to be decided. Because Christ and His Apostles preached a doctrine adverse to this Pharisaical law, they were denounced as opposers of the law of Moses. The modern Nomians or legalists also understand the original law of God to have given place to a milder law, compounded of the letter of the Ten Commandments and what they conceive to be certain requisitions and conditions of the gospel, and that this gospel law is the standard of righteousness, by which all men under the gospel are to be tried, and a want of conformity to it is the ground of condemnation; and according to some, a personal conformity to it, is the ground ofjustification. But no individual who has been brought truly to love the law of God, can admit of its being supplanted by such a medley of human contrivance, and when it is opposed, either as a standard of right or as a yoke of bondage attempted to be put upon the neck of disciples of Christ, its opposers are at once denounced as Antinomians.
In making my appeal from these partial Judges, I file the following answers to their charge: 1st. That God in creating Adam a living soul, laid him, and his posterity in him, under obligation to love the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his strength; and to love his neighbor as himself; that this constituted the law of his creation, and the eternal standard of right, which no apostasy of man could make void. 2nd. That the revelation which God has made of His mind and will in the scriptures, the alone standard of truth, no where teaches that God has ever abrogated this law of man’s creation, altered its requisitions, or abated its demands to suit the weakness of fallen man. This answer is sustained by Matt. 5:17-20 & Rom. 3:31. 3rd. That the prohibition given to Adam in the garden not to eat of the forbidden tree, was designed as a test of his subjection to God and to the law of his creation; his transgressing this prohibition was therefore the just ground of his being condemned and his posterity in him to a state of depravity or death in sin. And that the law of Ten Commands given from Sinai, in its general bearing upon all men, distinct from its special reference to Israel nationally, was not designed as a covenant of works and to lead men to depend on their obedience to it for their final acceptance with God, either Jews or Gentiles; but it “was added because of transgression, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made, &c.;” (Gal. 3:19) it “entered that the offence might abound.” (Rom. 5:20) In a word, it was given in its spiritual import, in the sense in which Paul says the law is spiritual, – (Rom. 7:14) as a schoolmaster to teach both Jews and Gentiles their entire depravity and guilt, and the impossibility of their being justified by the deeds of the law, and their need of just such a salvation as is revealed in Christ, a salvation from sin and sovereignly free. Hence it is written, “We know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped and all the world become guilty before God;” and again, “For by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Rom. 3:19,20. Neither, I will add, was this law of Ten Commands given, in itself considered, to be a rule of life; it was designed to teach us what sin is, and its moral precepts are sanctioned by the New Testament as illustrating that which is a proper deportment toward God and toward man in a general and moral point of view. But a rule of life, to be correct must be an exact measure of all that is required of us to perform. – This law was not such to ancient Israel; other laws were given them, which they were required also to obey, and which were of course component parts of that rule by which their lives were to be squared, such as certain positive institutions of a ceremonial nature, &c. Neither is it a perfect rule to spiritual Israel; the life of a christian as such, must be upon a broader scale than the letter of the Decalouge, in order to its being squared with the gospel. Repentance toward God for his daily wanderings of heart, and living daily by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and an establishment in the truths of the gospel must enter into the composition of a christian’s life or walk in order to his conformity to the gospel standard; and these things are beyond the compass of the Ten Commands, “For the law is not of faith, but the man that doeth them shall live in them.” Gal. 3:12. There are also positive institutions belonging exclusively to the gospel to be observed by the christian if he would “walk uprightly according to the truth of the gospel.” If therefore the legalists call us Antinomians for denying that the law is a rule of life to the disciples of Christ, we may well call them anti-gospelers, or anti-new-testamenters for their attempts to make it a full rule to the christian’s life. Thus much for our views concerning the much insisted upon notion that the law is a rule of life to the christian, and I will now return to the further consideration of the answers I have filed.
1st. Whilst these answers stand, and they must stand according to the standard of eternal truth, it is evident that we are justified in opposing this law of conditions of which faith and repentance and various religious ceremonies, are the principal terms, being foisted into the place of that unchanging standard of right, the law under which man was created, as that by which man is to be judged before God, and consequently their charge against us of being Antinomians on this account will not stand. 2nd. So long as it is written, “Whosoever offendeth in one point is guilty of the whole,” it must be evident that whoever sets up anything other than the spiritual or original law of God in its exceeding broadness as the standard by which man is to be tried before God, by which he is to be justified or condemned, opposes or makes void that law and is therefore an Antinomian in the strict import of the word. The teaching that the law will accept of anything short of perfect obedience to its everlasting demands, or that it will admit of any substitution in the place of this perfect obedience, such as repenting and believing the gospel and the like, is according to the above view of the subject Antinomianism.
Having thus shown what Antinomianism is, and the characters on whom the charge properly rests, I will briefly show its position in relation to Arminianism by a few questions. 1st. Who are they that are opposed to the enforcing the rigorous demands of the spiritual law of God? – The unregenerate, whether professors or not; – “for the carnal mind is enmity against God, not subject to the law of God,” &c. But unregenerate professors more fully act out this opposition; they then are the practical Antinomians. 2nd. – Who are they that are fond of the Arminian, or do and live system? The unregenerate universally; but those of them who profess religion, more openly avow this system. Hence the Arminian in heart is an Antinomian in heart, and the professed Arminian stands in his doctrine opposed to the unchangeable demands and rectitude of the original law of God, and is therefore in truth an avowed Antinomian. Or thus: Those who make void the law of God by their traditions or systems must be Antinomians. What is Arminianism, but a system that teaches that men’s acceptance with God depends on certain conditions to be performed by them, short of a perfect obedience to the original law of God? Christ having according to some taken away the original law, and according to others, made an atonement for sin abstractly considered, to make room for such conditions being accepted. Hence Arminianism and Antinomianism terminate at the same point, are two different names for the same system of opposition to the law of God. How then can the “path which the vulture’s eye hath not seen” pass between the two? There is no middle ground there. But Brother Meredith is ready to ask, is there no system which opposes the obligations of the law of God, different from the systems of conditions? In answer I admit it has been said that there were those who held that the elect were never under the law, and that God never saw any sin in them &c. But such a sentiment would as completely do away redemption by Christ as it would the law. Besides this sentiment would be so irrational, so contrary to that sense of accountability which men have, that I cannot think such a sentiment ever existed in the breasts of any who believed there is a God and admitted the authenticity of the scriptures. The sentiment also that the elect as the children of Adam were actually justified from all demands of the law before time began, and were then, absolved from all charge of guilt, would, if carried out in its legitimate bearing, amount to an abrogation of the law in their behalf, and therefore be Antinomianism. But I know of none who contend for this sentiment that would admit of its being carried out to what I think its full implication; therefore, though they may be inconsistent, they are not Antinomians in the way they hold it.
Consequently, my brother, we in vain look for the granite rock of Antinomianism (where the charge of Antinomianism is just as implying opposition to the law of God) so severed from the sandbars of Arminianism as to admit of the path or way of holiness passing between them. – Indeed I may confidently ask, how would sandbars ever be found in the sea were there not a granite rock or something like it to form an eddy or obstruct the passage of the drifting sand and thus cause it to become a deposit? And how could any conditional or Arminian system ever get foothold were there not enmity in the human breast to the government and law of God; an Antinomian principle latent there, that would overturn the sovereignty of God, and bring down His perfect law from its pure and holy demands, to a level with the capacity of depraved mortals to obey?
I will notice that path which no fowl knoweth, that way of holiness in which the child of grace is led. And my brother, if you have eyes to see, as I think you have, and do not suffer men to put their fingers or systems into them, I shall show you that this path as Brother Beebe stated, leads directly off, alike from the ground of Antinomianism and of Arminian opposition to the truth.
The very first step in which a person is led in the christian life takes him off from that firm standing he before had on Arminian ground; – regeneration being the implantation of that life in the soul which is love to God and to His law. Sin, instead of holiness and the divine law, now becomes the object of his hatred. Long and hard may he struggle to regain a standing on Arminian ground, or in other words, to feel a confidence in his own doings, but in vain, every struggle but removes him farther from this confidence; he is led to an enlarged view of the law in its spirituality, sees it to be holy, just and good, and his love to it makes him loathe every thing that comes short of its righteous demands, as all his acts and thoughts do; and his confidence in his doings and exercises is therefore more and more destroyed. He finds himself at last without any standing, lying upon the absolute mercy of God, having no good prayers, repentance or reformation to hold on to, and feeling that if mercy does not hold him up he must in justice sink eternally. Hence, love and reverence for the law of God instead of making a person pleased with his own righteousness, and giving him a desire to be accepted with God on the ground of his own doings, leads him to throw aside his own doings and makes him willing to be saved as a poor sinner; just in proportion therefore an Antinomian opposition to the law is eradicated from his mind. Arminian confidence in creaturely performances is destroyed. Here is the mystery of the christian’s path that the culture’s eye cannot see; no person, not taught of God, can comprehend how that love and subjection to the law of God should cause one to loathe his own righteousness, nor how a person who relies entirely on the mercy of God in Christ for salvation, can be zealous of good works. Yet such is the case. The same love to the law which leads a person to renounce all human works as the ground of his acceptance with God, makes him cling to and rely alone on the work of Christ for acceptance when that work in its completion is once revealed to him as having been wrought for such poor sinners as he. The reason is that the one would degrade the law whilst the other perfectly honors it. Hence he who rejoices in Christ Jesus, has no confidence in the flesh; (Phil. 3:3) and he who with Paul can say I delight in the law of God after the inward man, would also with him, not have his own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. Rom. 7:22 & Phil. 3:9.
I think from what has been shown that Brother Meredith will be satisfied that the christian’s path which is as a shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day, cannot lead him in a middle way between Antinomian opposition to the law and Arminian love of human works, but that it leaves both in the background.
The other branch of Brother M’s enquiry I will leave for another communication.
Centreville, Fairfax Co., Va. July 5, 1839.
Signs of the Times
Volume 7, No. 15.
August 1, 1839
Select Works of Elder Samuel Trott